Right Brigade – Wednesday night, Thursday morning, and Bad Brains: Band in DC
The first thing that I noticed upon entering the tollbooths in front of the first campsites of Bonnaroo is the immense sudden population of the farm compared to the size of the area Bonnaroovians had to occupy. Mr. November (Tyler Domer), my brother Austin, and I walked a full mile to our campsite and during the whole walk we passed campsites that stretched as far as the eye can see. I had mentally prepared for being in the same place as 80,000 people but when I was actually confronted with the physical reality of that number. People set up, drank around, and danced next to tent after tent that lined the roads and all the space in between. I was in the Rally to Restore Fear along with 215,000 people but the 3 miles of the Mall that the rally occupied made it hard to tell exactly how many people were around me. Bonnaroo’s small space made the amount of people very clear as we walked around pop-up stores, past the never-ending stream of cars, and up the long road to our campsite. The road ran through what already looked and felt like a miniature city. People laughed, yelled to each other, and partied as we passed them to set up our tent in Camp Thunderlips. The farm was alive at 11 at night on Wednesday and as we explored the different camps before we went to sleep to the throbbing of music, hammers, and thousands of voices, I wondered how crazy the farm would be when it awoke the next day.
Whether it was my building excitement or the sun cooking our tent to a sweltering heat that woke the three of us up at 7 in the morning, we eagerly set out to explore the campgrounds as we waited for noon when the arch opened and Bonnaroo officially began. While we slept, Bonnaroo had stretched out even further than the night before and as cars continued to pour into campgrounds, people spilled out of newly set up tents all around us and blearily ate pop-tarts or started working on finishing another case of beer. The whole farm buzzed. There were girls in bikinis playing Frisbee as guys shouted and ran past the crowd to catch tossed footballs while a dreadlocked Bonnaroovian excitedly told the guy next to me about how great the last Phish show was. Vendors shouted out double entendres in order to sell their “Deez Nuts Coffee” cups. Cigarettes and things that looked similar to cigarettes but with distinct differences in construction were passed around while friends took pictures and pulled out maps to find the bathrooms. Drivers shouted “Bonnaroo!” as they passed and pedestrians responded by whooping and hollering. The call of “Bonnaroo!” spread from camp to camp until it sounded like a wave of sound growing louder then quieter then louder again as it washed back and forth and back again from campground to campground. The farm was a city with a built-in community of neighborhoods. People helped each other unpack, passed tools back and forth, and shook hands as they met their neighbors for the next four days. We tramped back to our camp to meet our very pleasant Canadian neighbors and friend Daniel Garcia, strapped on our backpacks and water bottles, and then headed towards the arch to stand in line to get into Centeroo.
By the time we got to the line at least four hundred people were queued to enter in front of us but it took us less than ten minutes to through the checkpoints and into Centeroo. Relatives had asked what Bonnaroo was before we left and I always responded, “It’s like Woodstock except better organized” and I was pleased to see that my response wasn’t far from the truth. Everything at that point, from the information booths, to the showers, to the amazing amount of port-a-potties for the immense amount of people on the farm, to the organization and efficiency of the workers, was top notch and professional. Bonnaroo may be all about freedom and characteristically unpredictable music but there was enough structure around the making of Bonnaroo that safety, security, and efficiency allowed each Bonnaroovian to not worry about anything but getting enough water, food, and sleep to fully enjoy themselves. I was impressed. I didn’t have to think about anything else as I stood on the other side of the arch, looked around, and grabbed Tyler, Dan, and Austin as I yelled, “We’re here! We’re here!” As we walked to the cinema tent to catch the Bad Brains documentary, I heard amps crackle to life as guitars were strummed in the far distance, admired the weird art scatter throughout the grounds, and noted the best looking food among the hundreds of stands we passed. The graffiti wall read, “Be Here Now” and I was more than happy to oblige.
The three of us caught the end of Bad Brains: Band in DC after buying souvenirs. Since I call DC my home and am a pretty dedicated punk fan who has been getting into the hardcore scene for the last year, I appreciated the film’s goal to document this most important and very influential band. The film had extensive interviews with HR and the rest of the guys along with old and new footage of concerts and smaller interviews with Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, and Dave Grohl (but what movie about music isn’t he in? He was in the Muppets for godsakes!) just to drive home how important Bad Brains are to the punk rock scene. Gifted comic artist Rita Lux and animator Grant Nellessen, who worked on the title sequence for Drag Me To Hell, animated key events of Bad Brains such as H.R. singing “Sacred Love” from jail. The best stories from the band and fans were illustrated and so the animation was my favorite part of the movie. The movie focused on the mystifying personality of H.R. as he changed from the violent, hyperkinetic performer during the early 80’s to the zoned-out and peaceful Rasta he is today. Covering H.R. was a smart decision on Mandy Stein and Benjamen Logan’s part as he provides much of the drama, strife, and charisma from the band. Seeing footage of him thrashing about with dreads whipping around his head as he flips and screams is mesmerizing and made me wish I could see them at the peak of Bad Brains’ power. His new persona is just as intriguing. His nonsensical rants, insane comments, and odd behavior such as refusing to sing at a concert or his attempts to sing a show from inside a racecar helmet while his band mates stew and rage at him were too odd to pull myself away. From Grohl’s admission that the drum beginning of “Smells like Teen Spirit” was inspired by Earl Hudson or Rollins’ confession that after being hauled up on stage by H.R., laid on his back, and then feeling the spittle from H.R. screaming lyrics inches from his face was “the beginning of his life,“ Bad Brains: Band in DC was an entertaining and in-depth analysis of one of founders of hardcore during their time in the legendary 80’s DC scene and where the band is now. Even if you don’t know the difference between Bad Brains or Bad Religion or don’t know the self-titled album art, the documentary’s drama and music is enough to keep anyone riveted.
We exited the tent, met up with our friend Jeff Williams, and walked across the grounds to catch EMA in order to get a good place for the Cave Singers.
This article wasn’t as much of a music review as the next one will be as I cover EMA, Cave Singers, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr but I was so surprised at the community, amounts of people, and energy of Bonnaroo that I wanted to share it. I will be embedding some of the pictures and video that I took during Bonnaroo in the upcoming posts so look forward to video mini-reviews as well as full text reviews! I recommend searching for a screening of the Bad Brains movie if you have even a tiny bit of interest in punk. H.R., as insane as he is, is a fascinating person and the animation alone is worth admission to the film. Thanks for sticking around and I look forward to reviewing the first couple of shows of Bonnaroo soon!